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Disney and the DSM-IV: Could New Villain Have BPD?

Rapunzel! Rapunzel! What can the woman in your hair teach us about borderline personality disorder (BPD)?

As a villain, Mother Gothel in Disney’s Tangled is unique.  She’s not motivated by revenge, greed, or lust for power. Gothel, terrified of growing older, is motivated by fear. As a result, she begins to display symptoms of BPD–to the point where she will literally die without Rapunzel and her magic hair.

What are the Symptoms of BPD?

According to the DSM-IV, there are nine criteria for BPD. In order to merit a BPD diagnosis, the patient must meet five of them. According to HealthyPlace, the criteria are:

  1. frantic efforts to avoid real or perceived abandonment (not including self-harm or suicidal behavior)
  2. a pattern of intense, unstable relationships alternating between idealization and devaluation
  3. persistently unstable self-image
  4. impulsivity in two self-damaging areas (drinking heavily, spending too much money, driving too fast, etc.)
  5. recurring suicidal behavior or threats
  6. unstable mood
  7. chronic emptiness
  8. inappropriate, intense anger
  9. stress-related paranoia or dissociation

I believe Gothel would meet criteria 1, 2, 3, 6 and 8 were she a real human. So, as an example of one way BPD can manifest, this is a hypothetical case.

Criterion Two: Gothel’s Two Views of Rapunzel

mother-gothel-rapunzelEarly in the movie, Gothel attempts to dote on Rapunzel: telling her she loves her, making her favorite hazelnut soup, even leaving on a three-day journey to make a special paint. However, when Rapunzel asks to leave the tower to find out why floating lanterns appear in the sky on her birthday, Gothel refuses. Her “adorable” daughter is now “sloppy, underdressed, immature, clumsy” and too weak to handle herself. Gothel’s needs determine how she views Rapunzel.

Criterion Three: Gothel’s Identity and Rapunzel’s Views

Gothel repeatedly tries to convince Rapunzel that she has her best interests in heart. She excels at playing the victim card, repeatedly saying “Great, now I’mthe bad guy.” As long as Rapunzel believes Gothel is her mother, Gothel seems to believe she is. Only when Rapunzel finds out the truth does Gothel quit the charade.  “You want me to be the bad guy?” she growls. “Fine.  Now I’m the bad guy.”

Criteria Six and Eight:  Gothel’s Anger and Happiness
rapunzel
Gothel ‘s emotional state depends entirely on Rapunzel’s. If Rapunzel is happy, so is Gothel. She needs Rapunzel to be happy in order to be happy, and becomes depressed or angry whenever Rapunzel is unhappy. The more curious Rapunzel becomes about life outside the tower, the more angry Gothel becomes, resulting in an argument ended when Gothel screams “You are not leaving this tower–EVER!”

Criterion One: A Manufactured Crisis

After Rapunzel leaves the tower, Gothel pursues. Upon finding that Rapunzel is happy about her choice to leave, Gothel quickly enlists the help of two thugs. As the thugs attempt to kidnap Rapunzel, Gothel double-crosses them and knocks them out with a piece of driftwood. If manufacturing a crisis in order to appear to be the rescuer isn’t a “frantic effort” to avoid abandonment, I don’t know what is.

The Cost of BPD

What would be ironic in real life is justice in an animated movie. Gothel perishes in one of the most creative and memorable death scenes in a Disney movie. In a way, Gothel died because she was unable to accept herself. Gothel had to be young and could not live any other way.

However, we don’t have to share that fate. According to NAMI, BPD is highly treatable. Whether it’s dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) or schema therapy or some other therapy, there is hope for recovery. We can learn to accept ourselves and accept the ups and downs of life.

We can get the villain of BPD out of our hair.

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